One of the simplest and most basic of all algebraic structures is a group. A group is a set with a binary operation that satisfies four axioms: closure, associativity, the existence of an identity, and the existence of inverses. When the operation is commutative, we say that the group is Abelian (in honor of the distinguished Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel).

Some groups that come to mind contain numbers: the set of integers under addition, the set of nonzero rational numbers under multiplication, or the set

under addition mod

. Groups occur abundantly in nature as they provide an ideal tool to study symmetry. Any finite group is isomorphic to (structurally the same as) a permutation group.

Many families of groups have been defined in an effort to classify groups. An important insight into the complexities of these families is provided by a diagram of the structure of its subgroups in which one subgroup is joined to another above it if the former is contained in the latter.

This Demonstration shows the lattices of subgroups of four important families of finite groups for selected values of

: the symmetric group

, of size (order)

; the alternating group

, of order

; the dihedral group

, of order

; and the cyclic group

, of order

.

contains all

permutations of

elements and is generated in

*Mathematica* with the command

Permutations[Range[n]] or, in a more compact way, by

SymmetricGroup[n] in Version 8. The group

is formed by selecting those permutations in

that are even, that is, that are obtainable from an even number of interchanges of two elements. The group

contains the permutations describing the symmetries of a regular

-gon, including the rotations and reflections of the regular

-gon and any combination of them. The group

is obtained by considering all powers of a single permutation. Cyclic groups are always Abelian. Dihedral groups are non-Abelian for

.